Remarks by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at the “Arria-Formula’’ VTC meeting of the Security Council “Implementation of the 2015 Minsk Package of Measures on the settlement in Ukraine: a year since Paris “Normandie” “Summit”
Thank you for participation in our event.
As it is clear from its title, our meeting today is devoted to the progress in the implementation of the Package of Measures adopted in accordance with Minsk Agreements. This arrangement, as you all know, was later supported by the Security council Resolution 2202 (2015). There is no other legal framework for the settlement of intra-Ukrainian conflict. We would like to remind that the core of this settlement is in the direct dialogue between the Ukrainian sides – Kiev, Donetsk, and Lugansk – in the Minsk Contact Group established under the Minsk Agreements. It also contains a list of consequential steps to be taken by those sides.
As you all know, the principle of dialogue between the parties of the conflict is basic for any diplomatic settlement. There are numerous examples of this kind. This Council promotes dialogue between government and opposition in Syria, Yemen, Libya. Members of the Council do not avoid contacts with Frente Polisario in the context of the settlement in West Sahara, or with representatives of Northern Cyprus for example.
But only settlement in Eastern Ukraine does not enjoy the same approach. Kiev is going out of the way to avoid direct contacts with the representatives of Donbas branding them terrorists, claiming they are Russian “puppets” and denying them even an opportunity for their voices to be heard by the international community. The reason is simple – to present this conflict as a conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and not with its own population. To write off it all on the alleged “Russian aggression” rather than its own unwillingness and inability to settle the conflict.
It is no revelation that the Ukrainian side has been sabotaging before and continue to sabotage Minsk Agreements now, already by new authorities. To give you concrete examples. On June 12, 2020 the Ukrainian Vice-Prime-Minister Alexey Reznikov called the Minsk Agreements null and void, as they “expired” in 2015. In October President Zelensky himself confessed that he was not satisfied with the format of the Minsk process, which he referred to as a necessity caused by warfare. On November 8, the head of Ukrainian delegation in Minsk Leonid Kravchuk openly admitted that the Kiev’s strategy is to change the order of the agreed steps, prioritizing the control of the territory over political provisions of Minsk Agreements that would meet the aspirations of the population.
Another worrying trend in this context represents attempts to frame the format of Normandy Summit which comprises Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany as kind of the only “real” framework for the settlement in Ukraine. This is a complete upending of all the logic of diplomatic efforts deployed in this regard from the very beginning: Normandy Summits do not substitute Minsk framework and are only aimed at reviewing progress made between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk. This becomes crystal clear if we turn to the decisions of the last Normandy Summit which took place in Paris on December 9th, 2019, President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky, President of France Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a document called “Common Agreed Conclusions”. What has been achieved a year since, we will learn from our briefers.
We wanted a representative from the Ukrainian government to participate in this meeting today as a briefer. I sent a letter to the PR of Ukraine requesting him to facilitate this. The letter remains unanswered until today.
We are particularly appalled by the efforts of our German and French colleagues, the Normandy format participants, to boycott this meeting under ridiculous pretext that the format of the meeting does not fall under Normandy Format. Moreover, we know that they worked tirelessly with delegations to dissuade them from participating. Not only this is shameful, but it also goes contrary to the established Security Council practice whereby Arria Formula meeting are not blocked or sabotaged whatever the subject is.
As you see, they were partly successful – our Western colleagues chose to ignore it. We have a question – why they are so scared to listen or talk to the people who represent Donbass – they are people after all and they at least deserve to be heard. Why they deny their legitimate right to speak up? They do not want, as they tell us, to "upstage" Donetsk and Lugansk. And I would like to tell you that the representatives that you see today are the ones who negotiate on behalf of Donetsk and Lugansk in the Minsk Contact Group.
We also have Mr. Mikhail Pogrebinsky, a politologist from Kiev. What was wrong listening to him? What’s his fault?
Our colleagues even insisted that the meeting should not be broadcast through UN Web TV as other Arria formula meetings. It simply reflects their fear to hear the truth about what’s really happening in Donbass – they would prefer to shut the mouths of its residents. But instead we have our YouTube-screening today of which we informed the general public.
By the way, it’s not the first time when our colleagues do it in the Council in such a way. On October 30, 2018 delegations of France, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Sweden, UK and US blocked participation of a representative of an electoral body in Lugansk Ms. Elena Kravchenko, despite the fact that the meeting was convened to discuss the ongoing electoral process. As you see the truth is not a welcome commodity with these states.
What happened today compromises the role of Berlin and Paris as intermediaries in solving Ukrainian crisis. They look more how to cover up Kiev authorities instead. That raises questions as to the expediency of future Normandy Summits: without the implementation of their provisions and the Minsk Agreements by all parties they don’t seem to have any added value.
With this presentation I am pleased to introduce our panellists Ms. Natalia Nikonorova and Mr. Vladislav Deinego, representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Donbass in the Minsk Contact Group, as well as Mr. Mikhail Pogrebinsky, Director of Kiev Center of Political Studies and Conflictology.
Now I would like to give the floor to Ms.Natalia Nikonorova.
You mentioned the sanctions factor, and I must cite my Minister, Sergey Lavrov. At an earlier stage, back in the time when Poroshenko was president of Ukraine, Minister Lavrov said: “That's a paradox – Poroshenko and Kiev do not implement the Minsk Agreements, but Russia is being sanctioned for that”. And that's the gist of what you said.
Indeed, the roadmap to implement the Minsk Agreements, which is the purpose and the name of the Minsk Contact Group, – we know that the Ukrainian side has presented a roadmap, that Donbass has presented its roadmap. They are not complementing, so to say. The other thing is, as we know, that the Ukrainian side refuses to discuss the roadmap presented by the Republics asking instead that the Russian Federation should provide a roadmap which we refuse to do for obvious reasons.
Now, you mentioned the role of the Normandy participants, in particular, France and Germany. I have already commented on that in my introductory remarks. But I want to add to that two things. First, I say often when we discuss Ukraine at official meetings of the Security Council, which happen from time to time, that there is one phenomenon which I call “lost in translation”. It means that not just Germany and France, but other countries as well (but Germany and France in particular) do not understand completely the genesis of the Ukrainian crisis. On the one hand, it happens because, whether they want it or not and however intelligent they might be, they are outsiders in this conflict. They do not understand delicate things that are obvious both to the Ukrainians, whether they admit it or not, or to the representatives of Donbass, or to the Russians. Unfortunately, they are deprived of that being able to immerse into the translation. And of course, the other factor is ideological and political, which is Russia itself.
Now, according to the logic of today's meeting, I should be giving the floor to the participants of the Normandy format, to France and Germany, which also chose to ignore the meeting like those who they convinced to follow suit. That, on the other hand, gives us a benefit to engage more in a dialogue with the participants, with the briefers today. I would take liberty upon myself of asking questions to all of you. I think that by picking up these questions, one way or the other I would reflect the narrative that would follow today if countries that had chosen to ignore the event, were present here today.
And the first question that I am pretty sure they would ask to the Republics it – where do you have the Russian troops? Where are they? How did they participate in the conflict? Because that's the narrative that we hear all the time, that it's not the Donbass population, but Russian volunteers, in fact, Russian troops which are engaged in a military warfare. Secondly, I think they would ask you what Russia is doing to assist Donbass, they would claim that you are effectively governed by the Russian Federation, that you are, as I said, puppets, representing not the people of Donbass, but the Russian Federation. I think that I would stop at that and ask you to answer these questions.
There are countries that came here to learn, and there are others that chose not to come here and not to learn. I referred to it many times, and I will come back to it when I speak at the end of our meeting. Now I fully understand and recognize the wish by Mr. Pogrebinskiy to see Donbass reintegrated. That was and is a region of Ukraine. It enjoyed life in one state before the conflict erupted. But the question is how to mend it, how to rectify it?
We see and you will agree with me that for whatever reasons, but there is no real willingness on the part of the Kiev authorities to talk to Donbass and to take into account its interests and priorities. At the same time, we see from Kiev quite often that Ukraine wants to embrace Donbass. On the other hand, it says that Donbass will embrace Kiev immediately after Kiev restores the control of the territory.
I was saying this to my colleagues: I personally was not a witness of any mass-scale protests in Donbass against the de facto authorities, or of any registered human rights violations, for example. So I don't think that Donbass population as of today is so much willing to reintegrate. That is sad, but that is unfortunately a fact of reality, which we have to deal with. My question to Mr.Pogrebinskiy, a very difficult one, is as follows: What do you think Ukrainian authorities should do to maintain Donetsk and Lugansk in the composition of Ukraine and to reintegrate that region?
Indeed, the way we define the conflict is perhaps the main stumbling block on the progress towards the settlement. I think Ukraine also benefits at least partly, maybe, not even partly, from defining this conflict as an interstate rather than domestic one. If this conflict was quantified as a domestic one, it would entail so many political, moral, cultural, economic and other consequences, that for the time being, at least, it is much easier to hide behind the qualification of this conflict as a conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
In fact this conflict has become a political conflict between Russia and Ukraine. But the authorities go beyond that. For them it's not so important that it's a political conflict, which is a factor and a derivative from the whole situation. First of all they brand it as a military conflict. Many things arise from this.
My intention is to give the floor to the briefers for their final statements. Of course, we will continue this practice and we earnestly hope that the next time we will be joined by those who have to say their own truth as they deem it right.
We do not write scenarios for these meetings. We do not indoctrinate people what to say, we stand for an open and frank dialogue and exchange of opinions. Only that frank and direct exchange of opinions can bring better understanding of where we are and where we should be moving.
Mr. Pogrebinskiy, you doubted whether you had to be an optimist. I think we all have to be optimists. Whatever happens, we still need to be optimistic and believe that we will be able to reach settlement and adhere to the aspirations of all who participate in it.
I believe today members of the Security Council and other delegations who joined them participated in a very important meeting. We listened to the positions of representatives of Donbass and a political studies expert from Kiev. Positions of Donbass representatives, unfortunately, are usually muted or seriously distorted. This meeting was not about promoting separatism as our official Ukrainian and Western colleagues will most likely label it. We gathered today to review the implementation of Minsk Agreements with the assistance of those who are most interested in the success of this process.
I think it was a consensus among all who spoke at this meeting, that these agreements, endorsed by UN Security Council resolution, at this moment have no alternative. They are the only means to come to a settlement eventually.
We repeatedly refuted official Ukrainian allegations, echoed by some Western countries, that Russia, I quote, “violates the Minsk Agreements”. Today you heard firsthand information about this issue which is much more valuable than any allegations. That is exactly the reason why Kiev, supported by Berlin and Paris, did everything to prevent this meeting from happening and finally ignored participating in it. Because truth hurts, and what we heard today is very uncomfortable for our Ukrainian and Western colleagues. They simply have nothing to say against this truth. Instead they create “smoke screen” masking their inability to engage in meaningful discussion.
We regret this. We want to see our Ukrainian neighbors sane and prosperous. Instead of Ukraine that we once knew and loved we see a sort of “Anti-Russia”, ignoring realities, turning deaf ear to what Russian-speaking population, in particular in the East of the country, wants. Today’s meeting clearly demonstrated that this extremely harmful trend for Ukraine persists. It is very discouraging, but we will not abandon our efforts to make Ukraine honor its obligations and implement what has been agreed. There is simply no other way to solve this intra-Ukrainian crisis. Dialogue is also indispensable for this aim, and we will be actively encouraging Kiev to engage in dialogue with its own people. We all should understand that there is only one alternative to this which I even would not dare pronounce, but I have to. The alternative to this is war which we would like to avoid at any cost. And this is not an exaggeration, but gruesome reality. Let’s not forget about it.
We thank our today’s briefers and consider everything that was said today by them extremely important. Therefore, we think that this meeting was very useful and are very satisfied that it has taken place. We thank those delegations who chose to participate in it. Those who chose to boycott it have exposed themselves and have clearly taken side in this civil Ukrainian conflict instead of trying to be unbiased intermediaries. We will of course take due note of it. But for one thing I have to thank them – those who were absent today. We all benefited from their absence in a sense that our briefers were able to speak out more at this meeting.
Let me once again thank you very much. We will follow up on this and find other ways how to engage in a similar discussion.